Decades Time Lapse in a Commercial Break

Have you ever watched the Game Show Network?

I hadn’t.

And then, for some reason, it was on the TV the other morning. I’ve never had it before, but it came as part of the package with BBC America, home of my favorite non-medical Doctor.

There was an old episode of Match Game ’74, and I struggled to identify the contestants. Steve, with his round glasses, well, that must be Steve Allen, surely, but decades younger than I’d ever seen him. A woman named Brett, who seemed to have more than water in her drinking glass. Charles Nelson Reilly, well, he’s unmistakable. Some woman named Fannie.

And a contestant named Richard.

Dawson? I wondered. He had the thin moustache of the times and thin sideburns to match, but that same square face. Richard Dawson started as contestant, rather than host?

I had to wait until the beginning of the next episode (wonderfully faster with the miracle of TiVo, as I was at the back end of 30 minutes of paused programming) to know for sure.

Yes, it was Richard Dawson, clearly a contestant favorite. And Brett, well, I still can’t remember her last name on demand, I looked it up, it’s Somers. Still not sure who she is, but I probably saw her on an episode of the Love Boat.

And that Fannie? Our very own Fannie Flagg, inventor of Towanda! the subject of a post a few days ago. Younger than I’d ever seen her on the back of a book jacket, and unapologetically wearing a fur (though Brett prodded her miserably over it).

Richard Dawson. I’d never known that the host that kissed all the women in that syndicated favorite started out looking like that.

No wonder.

I took in the clothes, the expressions of the contestants, all of them looking slightly glazed. The wonky technology, which consisted of lights, and when they failed to work, billboard-style numbers made up of individual light bulbs.

The second episode ended, and then it was time to play Family Feud, and there was Richard Dawson again, suddenly a decade older. The clothes had changed, the hair of the contestants was bigger, less contained, the colors never saturated.

I was fascinated.

With game shows, you get such a snapshot of that moment in time. The contestants are real, just regular people, no stylists, they probably did their own hair and makeup. The celebrities are celebrities of that year, of that decade, of that tone. The hobbies and interests and self-explanations are also so rooted in the moment they happened.

One of the poll questions on Family Feud was about appliances that people try to repair themselves and then have to call a repairman. Of the answers, this is the one that got me.

Toaster.

Who calls a repairman for a toaster? Yet in the eighties, enough people did for it to make it on the board.

It’ s like watching Americana, one prize-filled twenty-two minute chunk at a time.

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